MONEY: THE HI-TECH INVESTOR: Snap shots of share prices

MAKING money on the markets needs judgement, good sources of information and usually a little luck. The internet means that information at least is cheaper, quicker and easier to obtain.

Almost all financial web- sites offer some form of share price and portfolio service. Typically, investors can opt to monitor the prices of their favourite stocks; some services also carry historical pricing and an option to see the shares' movements as a graph.

These free services provide prices with a 15-minute delay, meaning that the information on screen lags behind the real prices. For the occasional trader, or for investors who want to monitor the performance of shares they already own, this is usually good enough.

For more active traders, real-time pricing makes sense. Real-time systems display exactly the same prices as brokers see on their direct link to the markets. Investors who trade heavily - including "day traders" who buy and sell stocks the same day - need the latest prices but the cost of real-time services means they tend to be the preserve of the professional or the very dedicated private investor.

But now Interactive Inves-tor, the financial website, has launched a real-time price ser-vice for people holding shares traded on the London Stock Exchange. "Snap" costs pounds 5 a month and users can opt to see real- time pricing by clicking on individual shares in their portfolio, perhaps before they decide to deal.

Interactive Investor's more thorough "Real Time" service costs pounds 15 a month, and presents all the shares at current prices. But unlike a dedicated market feed, the prices on Interactive Investor are static; to update them, users have to click the refresh button on their browser. Doing this shows the current prices for all the shares in the portfolio.

The idea of watching prices scroll across a screen in real time, as they do on dedicated terminals such as Market Eye, sounds exciting. In practice, it has only limited value for private investors. Interactive Investor plans to add live price streaming, but has held back because it puts more strain on users' web browsers and internet connections. The company is also looking into real-time pricing for overseas markets including New York and Tokyo.

Real-time prices are only one part of the new services. Internet users are notoriously careful with their money, and Interactive Investor will have to work hard to wring even pounds 5 a month out of most people. To tempt subscribers, the site is also providing real- time market news from AFX, company fundamentals from Hemmington Scott and market analysis.

n Interactive Investor, www.iii.co.uk

Web firm to float

The eXchange Group, the company behind personal finance website Money Extra, is planning to float on the London Stock Exchange. UK residents who are interested in investing in the company, and have an email address, can register online until midnight on 20 July at the MoneyeXtra site. They will receive a mini-prospectus and application form.

n MoneyeXtra, www.money-extra.com

n Stephen Pritchard can be contacted by email at hi-tech-investor@dial.pipex.com

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